A New Jersey grant program that funds energy-efficiency upgrades at no cost to local governments closes next week, and nearly a third of the 512 eligible municipalities and counties - including dozens of South Jersey towns - have not enrolled.

The program provides up to $50,000 for upgrades to lighting, heating, and cooling systems in municipal and county buildings with no matching funds required. A ratepayer-funded clean-energy program pays 60 percent. The remainder is federal stimulus money that must be allocated by March 31.

In order to meet that deadline, the Board of Public Utilities has set a Dec. 31 end to enrollment, spokesman Greg Reinert said.

In Burlington, Camden and Gloucester Counties, 36 of the 92 eligible municipalities had not signed up as of Wednesday afternoon.

Paulsboro was among them. Mayor John J. Burzichelli, also an Democratic assemblyman, said the borough's staff has only so much time and is juggling several big projects, including a $7 million water filtration plant.

"We haven't had the ability to turn our attention to" the grant program, he said. "We'll get to it. The year's not over yet."

The program is open to communities that did not receive grants for energy efficiency directly from the federal government.

"The BPU created a process that is simple and fast, with staff on hand to guide applicants through the entire procedure," Lee Solomon, president of the agency, said in a news release. But, he said, "time is of the essence."

The program provides grant winners with an energy audit to assess their needs. The state preapproved contractors in each county to make installation quick, Reinert said. Municipalities must pay 40 percent of building improvements that exceed $50,000.

In Somerdale, the senior center's HVAC system was failing and the heating system in the public works building was inefficient, said Mayor Gary Passanante. The Camden County borough overhauled both with a $51,154 grant and $769 of its own money.

Particularly as the borough tries to figure out how to meet a 2 percent cap on property tax increases, "it's a home run for us," Passanante said.

Reinert said the state would work with the Department of Energy to figure out how to spend what remains of the $10.2 million in stimulus money that was allotted for the program. The state could reopen the application process next year, but not every municipality would be guaranteed the full $50,000 after the Dec. 31 deadline, he said.

Contact staff writer Chelsea Conaboy at 856-779-3893 or cconaboy@phillynews.com.